Born on November 6, 1928, in Pittsburgh, PA; died on August 9, 2002, in Los Angeles, CA; married Marilynn Lovell (a singer); two children. Education: Chemical engineering degree from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

In a career that spanned five decades, arranger, conductor, and composer Peter Matz worked with some of the greatest names in contemporary music, including Peggy Lee, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, and Barbra Streisand, with whom he had a longstanding collaborative partnership. His work appeared on stage, film, television, and even in commercials, but Matz was never too busy to devote time to charitable causes such as AIDS research.

A native of Pittsburgh, Matz worked his way through the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) by playing woodwinds in dance bands. Though he earned his degree in chemical engineering (culminating what the musician once quipped in the London Independent was a "terrible, misguided youth"), Matz took a different career route after graduation, beginning with an intense two-year musical apprenticeship in Paris. Relocating to New York in 1954, he studied piano and music theory, then began work as a rehearsal pianist for the new Harold Arlen production House of Flowers, starring Diahann Carroll, with whom he would work again on No Strings. Matz soon landed a gig with Horne in her show, Jamaica. Independent writer Dick Vosburgh recalled the big hit from House of Flowers, "Two Ladies in da Shade of de Banana Tree," which Vosburgh described as a "calypso-like rhythm that ... was built into a stunning dance arrangement and conducted by [the] bright young musician."

As his reputation grew, Matz found himself working with the likes of Marlene Dietrich for her one-woman show. Leaving Broadway briefly, he served as Noel Coward's arranger and conductor for the noted raconteur's cabaret act. Matz and Coward worked together again in New York on Sail Away.

The emerging medium of television beckoned, and Matz wrote and arranged music for such early productions as the Jimmy Dean Show, the Kraft Music Hall, and, later, Hullaballoo; he went on to serve as musical director for literally hundreds of pilots, specials, and series, from Mama's Family to the Kennedy Center Honors. But Matz's television years were best characterized by his long stint as composer, arranger, and conductor for the Carol Burnett Show, which ran for eight years. His lively and humorous musical interpretations for that classic sketch-comedy show earned him an Emmy Award and three more nominations. For several years he also provided the orchestrations accompanying the Academy Awards telecasts.

Matz composed scores for many feature films and television movies, beginning with Bye-Bye Braverman in 1968, and continuing through This Can't Be Love in the mid-1990s. He earned an Oscar nomination in 1975 for his score to the film Funny Lady, a sequel to Funny Girl. The movie starred Streisand, who had worked with Matz on some of her best-selling albums, including People, My Name Is Barbra, and her The Broadway Album. The latter work, a multiplatinum seller, netted Matz and Streisand a Grammy Award nomination for Album of the Year. The musician also had credits on the Streisand releases The Way We Were, What about Today?, Live Concert at the Forum, and The Second Barbra Streisand Album.

Though he conducted up-and-coming stars like Sarah Brightman and Sam Harris, Matz appeared equally at ease with established artists. In 1996 singer Rosemary Clooney, whose last hit had been "White Christmas" 42 years earlier, returned to the studio with Matz to rerecord her classic holiday anthem and several other pop songs. The resulting album, Rosemary Clooney: White Christmas, earned an "A-plus" from a Cincinnati Post reviewer. "Imagine cozying up to a fire with a few friends--Rosemary and [her brother, television host] Nick Clooney among them," wrote Carole Phillips in that newspaper. "Imagine the Peter Matz Orchestra and the Earl Brown Singers right in your living room."

In 1999 Matz provided the musical score for J. Edgar!, a musical-comedy exploration of the life of J. Edgar Hoover, legendary leader of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The production was staged as an LA Theater Works radio play, starring Kelsey Grammer in the title role. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch reviewer, Dick Richmond, likened J. Edgar! to "a La Cage aux Folles for the law-enforcement set." A year later, Matz wrote the music for a new stage production, The Gorey Details, which had its opening at New York's Century Center. Based on the humorously macabre imaginings of Edward Gorey, the musical showcased the author's "whimsical approach to murder, suicide, fatal illnesses and lavish funerals," wrote Robert Hofler in Variety, adding that Matz's music "neither gets in the way nor excites the senses."

Matz is perhaps remembered best in his last years as the guiding force behind the Reprise! concert series that has played in New York and Los Angeles since its founding in 1995. The series focuses on respected, if lesser-known, musicals, which are given new staging and arrangements and performed by A-list actors and singers. In a Los Angeles Times article, Myrna Oliver quoted Matz as he explained his view of musical theater as "really a native art form. It should be preserved for the same reason it's important to preserve a Frank Lloyd Wright building or not let old movies decay in the can."

Some Reprise! productions included Two by Two, Plain and Fancy, The Robber Bridegroom, and the musical adaptation of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Of another such production, a 1999 staging of The Boys from Syracuse, a Los Angeles Daily News contributor said the show "maintains a deft balance between slapstick and sincerity," with Richard Rodgers's score "performed by Peter Matz and orchestra with their customary panache."

Matz and his wife, singer Marilynn Lovell, performed together in cabaret. But Matz's music was stilled when he died of lung cancer on August 9, 2002. He was recalled in the press as an innovator and a stalwart musician, a "well-liked maestro with [a] warm smile," as Rebecca Cohen noted in a Daily Variety article. "I could be real obscure and say music is life," Matz was quoted in a Miami Herald obituary. "Music is breathing. Music is about evolution. Music is about love. Music is about sadness. Music is all the emotions, in the same room, sometimes at the same time." A memorial concert was staged at his alma mater, the University of California, Los Angeles, on November 25, 2002. The event featured such notable performers as Joel Gray, Elaine Stritch, Burt Bacharach, and Carol Burnett.

by Susan Salter

Peter Matz's Career

Arranger, conductor, and composer; began theater career with House of Flowers, 1954; became conductor for numerous stage musicals; worked as arranger, composer, and conductor on hundreds of television series, pilots, and specials; musical director for the Carol Burnett Show, 1971-77; recording work includes albums with Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee, and many others; composer, arranger, and conductor for numerous films, including Funny Lady and Bye Bye Braverman; musical director for the Reprise! concert series, 1995; cabaret performer with wife, Marilynn Lovell; fundraiser for AIDS research; instructor, University of Southern California.

Peter Matz's Awards

Clio Awards, 1965, 1974; Emmy Awards, Individual Achievement by a Musician for My Name Is Barbra, 1965, Music Direction for The Sound of Burt Bacharach, 1970, Music Direction for Carol Burnett Show, 1973; Grammy Award, Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)/Best Background Arrangement for "People," 1964.

Famous Works

Further Reading

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Visitor Comments Add a comment…

almost 5 years ago

My first experience of Peter Matz was listening to his captivating arrangements for Barbra Streisand's early albums. In the decades since then, I'd be grabbed by a lush and fabulous arrangement, check the liner notes, and find Peter again. Tonight it was Nancy LaMott's posthumous 1996 "What's So Good About Goodbye?" album, with Peter's string arrangements. The glory of Peter's music lives on in so many fine recordings.

about 6 years ago

There were several Columbia records albums by Matz, as arranger and pianist. I wish very much that someone would remaster them and issue at least ONE CD!